Tuesday night, the Texas Tech basketball team began life without starting forward Devan Cambridge. Fortunately, a number of player stepped up in his absence to secure an 82-76 win over Oral Roberts in Lubbock.
Warren Washington, Kerwin Walton, and Darrion Williams each scored in double figures with Washington and Williams posting double-doubles to help the Red Raiders move to 7-2 on the year. Meanwhile, ORU guard Jailen Bedford led all scorers with 26 points thanks to a 6 for 8 shooting night from 3-point range.
After a back-and-forth first half that saw Tech lead only 38-34 at the break, the Red Raiders would push their advantage to as many as 19 points in the second half before the hot-shooting Golden Eagles, who drilled 16 of their 36 shots from beyond the arc, were able to claw back into contention and make the final few minutes intriguing. Still, it was a game that Tech felt in control of for the entire second half.
While this win won't garner any national headlines, it is one that shouldn't be overlooked given the quality of program that ORU is. Coming off of a 30-win season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, Oral Roberts is again proving to be one of the nation's toughest mid-majors. Already this year, they have taken Kansas State to overtime in Manhattan, Kansas and they played Texas A&M tough in a 74-66 loss in College Station.
So let's break down the numbers and check out how the Red Raiders secured their latest victory. We'll start by looking more closely at the night that the team's newest starter put forth.
Kerwin Walton starts and plays well for Texas Tech
Of course, everyone wanted to know who was going to replace Cambridge in the starting lineup and that job went to guard Kerwin Walton, an interesting choice given that he is such a vastly different player than Cambridge. However, for one night at least, the move Grant McCasland made seemed to pay off.
Making his first start this year, Walton had a team-high 17 points to go along with four boards and three assists. It was his second consecutive excellent performance after he posted 24 points off the bench against Omaha in the team's previous game.
Walton isn't as versatile or athletic as Cambridge. He won't be able to guard any position on the court nor will he be as active when it comes to creating havoc or slashing to the rim. Those are traits that made Cambridge unique on this roster.
Instead, Walton helps space the floor by bringing a third 3-point weapon into play to go along with Pop Isaacs and (to a lesser extent) Joe Toussaint. On Tuesday, Isaacs and Toussaint were relatively quiet putting up just nine points each and going a combined 2-11 from 3-point range. However, Walton's production helped make up the difference.
Going 4-7 from deep, Walton made 40% of his team's ten made 3s (on 29 attempts) and he was the only Red Raider to make more than two 3s in the game. But it wasn't all about the scoring from the former North Carolina transfer.
Perhaps the best play of the night from Walton, the one that showed how far he's progressed as a player, was a hustle play in the first half. The only player to dive on the floor after a loose ball that ORU had coughed up, he came up with the rock and, while still on the ground, shoveled it to a streaking Warren Washington who took the ball from center court to the rim for a breakaway dunk.
That's the type of play that Kerwin Walton wouldn't have made last year or even earlier this season. Something has clicked in his head and he is now engaged, especially on the defensive end. No longer content to just stand around the 3-point line and hoist the occasional long-range bomb, he's doing other things that contribute to winning and he's being rewarded by McCasland.
Walton isn't ever going to be a lockdown defender or a monster on the board the way Cambridge could be. But he is more than just a 3-point sniper. He's capable of putting the ball on the deck and scoring off the dribble as well as getting to the line (two things he did on Tuesday night) and he can play average defense, which is all this program is asking of him.
Because he is such a lethal shooter, we will always focus on his outside accuracy but on Tuesday, it was refreshing to see an engaged and active Walton put forth the type of effort in other areas of the game that he simply hadn't as a Red Raider. Though he plays the game differently than Cambridge does, he is proving that he can be a winning component and that was evident against Oral Roberts as he made a difference as a starter.